Bangladesh cancels top human rights group's licence

The US in December imposed sanctions on the RAB police unit over rights abuses including hundreds of enforced disappearances. PHOTO: KENNETH ROTH/TWITTER

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh has cancelled the operating licence of its top human rights group and accused it of tarnishing the country's image, the organisation said on Monday (June 6) - prompting a chorus of condemnation from rights advocates.

Odhikar has been documenting human rights violations in Bangladesh since 1994.

It has worked closely with United Nations bodies and recorded thousands of extrajudicial killings by security forces as well as enforced disappearances allegedly perpetrated by the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) police unit.

The United States in December imposed sanctions on the RAB and seven of its senior officers - including the national police chief - over rights abuses including hundreds of enforced disappearances.

Odhikar shared an order issued Sunday by the NGO Affairs Bureau, a wing of the Prime Minister's Office that regulates charities, saying the government had rejected its application to renew its registration.

"The activities of the organisation are not satisfactory," the order said.

The group had published "misleading information about various extrajudicial killings, including alleged disappearances and murders", the document said.

This had created "various issues against Bangladesh.. which has seriously tarnished the image of the state".

The organisation has been operating in regulatory limbo since it sought to renew its 10-year licence in 2014.

No decision was made on the application until now - days before a court was to hear a petition from Odhikar seeking its intervention.

"It means our registration has been cancelled," Odhikar's secretary Adilur Rahman Khan told AFP. "We will take legal recourse in this matter.

"Odhikar has been facing persecution for years and the arbitrary cancellation of its registration is the latest attempt to silence Odhikar," Khan said.

"The documentation of human rights violations is not a crime." Nur Khan Liton, a former head of another of the country's leading human rights organisations, condemned the decision, calling it "a reflection of the government's autocratic policy".

Amnesty International's South Asia campaigner Saad Hammadi said: "It is absurd that the Bangladeshi authorities withheld the registration of the human rights group for eight years and then cancelled it because of the global ire they faced for a poor human rights record."

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